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Unable To Get Into Hungary, Thousands Of Migrants Try Croatia

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET

With Hungary sealing its southern border with Serbia, thousands of migrants are turning west instead, pouring into Croatia, making the Balkan nation the latest intermediate stop for a surge of humanity trying to reach the European Union.

By Thursday morning, Croatian police said more than 6,000 people — mainly refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria — had entered that country since the first of them began arriving a day earlier.

Migrants hide from the sun using cardboard as they sit on the railway track in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Thursday, after arriving there from neighboring Serbia.
Antonio Bronic / Reuters/Landov
Migrants hide from the sun using cardboard as they sit on the railway track in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Thursday, after arriving there from neighboring Serbia.

But Croatia's Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said his country cannot accept any more people. He said safe transit is guaranteed only to the capital, Zagreb, and that anyone not seeking asylum there would be considered an illegal migrant.

Lauren Frayer, reporting from the border for All Things Considered, says Croatian police "allow some children to crawl through holes in the fence. Parents get separated from their kids. And the temperature hits 90."

"Where is the train? Where is the bus? We will die in here!" screams Nour Abdullah, who is from Iraq. Her whole family — husband, brother, son and uncle — spent last night outdoors on the Serbia-Croatia border.

They clutch each other in fear, as the growing crowd presses them up against the chain link fence.

"I understand. We do what we can do," says a Croatian police officer, his own voice shaking. "We are not magicians. Please wait. The buses will come."

Lauren reports that Croatian police are clearly overwhelmed. Ostojic, visiting the border, says the masses of people "will be arrested by police, and they will be brought to reception areas."

The Associated Press reports: "After bus trips through Serbia, the migrants crossed fields on foot to enter Croatia, where dozens of police directed them to trains and buses heading to refugee centers in Zagreb and elsewhere. Authorities had warned them to avoid walking in areas along the Serbian border that are still being demined from the country's 1991-95 war."

And, The Financial Times says:

"Many migrants plan to travel onward from Croatia to Slovenia, part of the EU's Schengen free movement area, and from there to Austria and Germany.

"But on Wednesday, Slovenia [signaled] it would reinforce its frontier with Croatia, posing a new obstacle to the migrants, and announced temporary border controls with Hungary, a fellow Schengen member."

The sudden influx comes a day after Hungarian police fired tear gas and water cannon at a group of refugees that surged through a border fence that was erected earlier this week to prevent their entering from Serbia.

Hundreds of migrants, mostly young men, clashed with Hungarian police on Wednesday. Dozens were reportedly injured and 150 arrested.

As Teri Schultz reports for NPR, the images of Hungary's response, especially the images of children being tear-gassed, has prompted "a huge international outcry," even from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said he believed the police reaction was justified and the criticisms unfounded because the migrants, he said, were throwing stones and concrete at officers.

"I find it bizarre and shocking that certain esteemed international figures have stood on the side of people who for hours were throwing stones and pieces of cement at the Hungarian police," Szijjarto was quoted by the AP as saying.

Meanwhile, days after the EU failed to reach agreement on mandatory quotas for accepting the refugees, Reuters reports that Romanian President Klaus Iohannis reiterated on Thursday his opposition to such a plan.

"Romania is showing solidarity with EU states but ... we do not feel mandatory quotas are a solution to the migration problem," he told reporters after a meeting of the country's supreme defense council, according to Reuters. "It is possible that through a procedure applied next week ... the EU will force us to receive more refugees than we have offered to take."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.